Here’s my third blog on the five-fold ministry of Eph 4:11 – this time on evangelists.
When I was about six I was on way to school one day and I noticed something was different. In the field opposite Doncaster racecourse, normally used for overflow parking for the races, a big circus tent had gone up overnight. A big top. I’d been to the circus before and had enjoyed the animals, the funny clowns and the amazing acrobats so I was very pleased when my parents told me I would be going. But when I got there I found the tent wasn’t compered by a ringmaster, but by Dick Saunders running ‘The Way to Life’ crusade. My parents told me Dick Saunders was an evangelist. I enjoyed the meetings, and remember learning the bible verse John 3:16:
God so loved the world that he gave his only Son
that whosoever believes in him
should not perish but have everlasting life.
And I was told that Jesus died for me, so I could insert my name into the place of ‘whosoever’ – so that ‘Matthew may not perish but have everlasting life’. That was my first remembered experience of an evangelist – and I was not put off.
In Ephesians 4 St Paul lists evangelists as one of five groups of people who are crucial for a church to function well. The others are: apostles, prophets, pastors and teachers. So why are evangelists so important?
Notice that Paul talks of the ‘evangelist’ rather than the gift of evangelism. He’s referring to a person and not just a gift or skill-set. The evangelist is a person who is particularly gifted in evangelism and for some people that is their primary calling. Maybe for you. We are all called to witness; Jesus said, ‘you will be my witnesses’. Every follower of Jesus should bear witness to him – to who he is, and what he’s done. We are all called to ‘evangelise’. But some of us are particular good at it. Natural. These folk are evangelists.
A great example of an evangelist is Philip, who we read of in the Acts of the Apostles. I encourage you to get a concordance and look up all the references to him, for he is a good role model of an evangelist. Read for example, of his exploits in Samaria in Acts 8, or his interaction with the Ethiopian eunuch in Acts 9, and how he led him to faith in Jesus Christ. Learn also from St Paul and study his evangelistic messages. And learn of course, from Jesus Christ, who is the best example of an evangelist. (Actually he is the best example of all five of these ministries listed in Ephesians 4 as he is the perfect blend of apostle, prophet, evangelist, pastor and teacher.
Since observing Dick Saunders in the 1970s, I have heard and observed other up-front, on-stage evangelists, like Luis Palau and of course Billy Graham. And they are great, and still have their place. But I’m not sure if that is exactly what St Paul had in mind when he talks here of evangelists, for the Greek word for ‘evangelist’ has nothing particularly to do with being on-stage; it simply means messenger of good news. So an evangelist doesn’t have to be on a platform. They may simply be getting alongside people, chatting the gospel. In fact I suspect that some of the best evangelists exercise their ministry that way.
So when I think of evangelists, I think of my friend Greg Downes, who can do the up-front stuff, but he leads most people to Christ in one-to-one chats, maybe over a coffee. Or I think of my mum, who’s an evangelist but doesn’t realise it. She just can’t help talking to people, listening to them, telling them that there’s a God who loves them and offering to pray with them.
My Grandpa Luther was the same. He used to sell china and pots on Doncaster Market, and would often be found in conversation with someone, giving them a pamphlet from his jacket pocket, inviting them to church, offering prayer. He was doing the work of an evangelist. We can all be doing that, but some are especially good at it.
David Watson, former Vicar of St Michael le Belfrey was an evangelist. He prayed each day that God might use him that day to lead someone to Jesus Christ. And often that prayer was answered. I wonder, could you pray that prayer? Each day?
There are all sorts of spiritual gifts that are often very useful for evangelists to use. Gifts like words of knowledge. I am not a great evangelist but I remember once leading a girl to Christ by having a word for her about involvement with the demonic. I described a picture I had received whilst praying for her. Her response was, ‘how did you know?’ and within half an hour she’d given her life to the Lord. Gifts of healing are often helpful in evangelism. If a unbeliever is healed, they are much more open to the gospel. I have seen that on many occasions.
So, for example, you might be in church midweek and a tourist visitor comes in. And they might just catch your attention. You might ask the Lord, ‘do you want me to chat with them?’ Yes. So you go up to them and welcome them and begin a conversation. I would encourage you to be listening to the Lord speaking to you and guiding you in your conversation. Maybe you might help lead them nearer to Jesus Christ, or maybe they are ripe for picking and ready to give their lives to Christ. So be open. We can ALL do this. And especially the evangelists.
A few weeks ago I had 48 hours away on Holy Island. Monks established a mission base there in the 7th Century from which they evangelised the North. I went with my prayer partners, praying God would again send lout evangelists in our day and bring awakening to the North. These monks would get into a rhythm of evangelism. So they’d go out with the tide, and come back as the tide was returning. As they went further out into the North, they’d be out for days, or weeks, travelling around, telling people about Jesus and baptising them. (It’s interesting that baptism was a key part of what they did. It was an important marker for the new believer, testifying that they really were serious about Jesus and were now his followers). So the Abbey on Holy Island was a mission base for the North. And Prayer was central to their life together. And people would join them, who shared the vision of spreading the good news across the North. These were brave men. Pioneers. They were sometimes fearful, but God gave them courage, as they stepped out and shared the faith. They were evangelists. Evangelists for the North.
I think the Lord wants to release again evangelists – evangelists for the North. Travelling evangelists. Local evangelists. All sorts of evangelists. Sent out from strong mission centres – like this one, here at The Belfrey. Are you one of those? If you are, go for it! If that’s not you, then pray with me, that the Lord would in our generation release a fresh wave of evangelists for the North.